It’s been a while since the last post and there’s been a lot going on (I’ll try and catch up over the course of a few posts). The other day, after seeing me tab through various browser windows at speed, our bookkeeper asked in jest if there was anything left in the company that wasn’t in the cloud. I had a good laugh and then went silent -to my amazement, I couldn’t think of anything!
Let me backtrack a bit – Crossbolt has since its inception, pushed the technology boundaries on business automation. Examples include being paperless from the beginning, being truly location agnostic for several years (that’s hard), running WiFi and using mobile platforms since 2001 etc. Generally, if there was a more efficient way to tune the back-office function I was going to find it!
Over the years as vendor SAAS models began to mature and bandwidth got cheaper and more reliable, I started moving pieces of the company’s application infrastructure ‘into the cloud’. The business case was simple: no more upgrades and back-ups to worry about and the freedom to work off any platform!
Without further ado, here’s the list. It’s taken a while to settle on a system that worked and there were some failures along the way (it’s an evolution).
E-mail, Calendar and Tasks: Google Apps, with a domain redirect. The fact that gmail is powering everything is invisible to customers. Cheap (the free version suffices for now), powerful and much better than anything Outlook-based. I still use Outlook on customer sites where I have to use a company specific e-mail address, but the calendars synch up quietly in the background using the google calendar synchronization tool. So yes, Google knows everything there is to know about Crossbolt, but they know everything about everyone else too…
File server: Dropbox is the bees knees, and we have a paid-for 50GB subscription for all company related data [$99/year]. This thing is invisible and does exactly what it promises, seamlessly making the data available across multiple devices and allowing easy access by several employees and contractors. This is much better than a LAN-based file server unless you are into huge media files (not a problem for us).
Timesheets: We use Harvest for this [$12/user/mnth] and it turned a tedious spreadsheet-based, once a month catch-up into something that happens seamlessly through the day using an iPhone application. Allows for rapid scaling as contractors come onto projects and roll off again later.
Workflow and task management: We use FogBugz as an internal workflow tool to assign tasks between staff. This is a gem of a product that I’ve been using for years at various companies. Its ease of use and accessibility makes all case-management type of workflows a breeze to operate and scale. 20000 other organisations think so too! [$25/user/month]
Accounting: We use Softline Pastel’s My Business Online product [R140/month for 2 user accounts]. Crossbolt has been with Pastel since inception and the move to the cloud-based product happened this year and its brilliant! Finally the bookkeeper can do everything remotely and we all have access to the books and management reports without having to mail files around. This is major progress from having a client-based application on one PC at the office that everybody had to use.
Payroll: We use Softline VIP’s Liquid Payroll, which demystifies everything related to payroll at R15/employee/month. This is well worth it unless you’re a masochist who enjoys dealing with managing somebody else who is also a bit confused trying to handle all the statutory rubbish that a business has to wade through to stay compliant (medical aid credits, fringe benefits, contributions, deductions, EMP 201’s, 501’s IRP 5’s blah blah blah). Bitchin’!
Statutory taxation: SARS e-filing [free, other than the tax you have to pay…], which though clunky compared to some of the other products here, is light years ahead of the place from whence we came…and most of the rest of the world.
Marketing: LinkedIn and WordPress and Facebook to an extent too. I also use Twitter and Google Alerts occasionally for market research (particularly around investments). You already know about these.
Project Management: We use Scrumy for online Scrum boards to manage work internally and between geographically separated collaborators (we use graphic designers in Durban, Toronto and a printer in Cape Town as an example).
Banking and Investment: Nedbank Online Banking and Standard Bank Online Share Trading. The latter is brilliant (there were two predecessors), the former doesn’t warrant a link!
VoIP: Skype kills everything dead. We’ve been using for intercontinental comms since 2003.
While many of these applications are household names, getting all the way there has taken some doing – particularly the accounting and payroll applications.
And the downside: well, without an internet connection, I might as well go sailing! Fortunately in the interests of uptime, we have several net connection mechanisms (ADSL, Vodacom 3G, Cell C broadband) and in fact can continue to run the business from the yacht. Like right now.